Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bray, Anna Eliza

BRAY, ANNA ELIZA (1790–1883), novelist, daughter of John Kempe, bullion porter in the Mint, and Ann, daughter of James Arrow of Westminster, was born in the parish of Newington, Surrey, on 25 Dec. 1790. It was at one time intended that Miss Kempe should adopt the stage as her profession, and her public appearance at the Bath Theatre was duly announced for 27 May 1815; but a severe cold, which she caught on her journey, prevented her appearance, and the opportunity was lost for ever. In February 1818 she was married to Charles Alfred Stothard, the son of the distinguished royal academician and an artist himself, whose talents were devoted to the illustration of the sculptured monuments of Great Britain. With him she journeyed in France, and her first work consisted of 'Letters written during a Tour in Normandy, Brittany, &c., in 1818.' Her husband was unfortunately killed through a fall from a ladder in Beer Ferrers church, Devonshire, on 28 May 1821, while he was engaged in collecting materials for his work, 'The Monumental Effigies of Great Britain.' By Stothard she had one child, a daughter, born posthumously 29 June 1821, who died 2 Feb. 1822. Mrs. Stothard undertook to complete the book her husband left unfinished, with the aid of her brother, Mr. Alfred John Kempe, F.S.A. When Stothard died it had advanced as far as the ninth number, and the entire volume, which was published in 1832, proved a severe strain upon his widow's resources. She subsequently (1823) brought out a memoir of her late husband. Many years later she communicated to the 'Gentleman's Magazine' and to 'Blackwood's Magazine' reminiscences of her father-in-law, Thomas Stothard, R.A., and these were afterwards (1851) expanded into a life of that admirable artist. At her death she left to the British Museum the original drawings of her husband's great work.

A year or two after the decease of Stothard his widow married the Rev. Edward Atkyns Bray [q. v.], the vicar of Tavistock. She then entered upon novel writing, and from 1826 to 1874 she issued at least a dozen works of fiction. Some of these, such as 'The Talba, or the Moor of Portugal' on the publication of which she became acquainted with Southey, and worshipped him throughout her career dealt with foreign life; but the most popular of her novels were those which were based on the history of the principal families (the Trelawneys of Trelawne, the Pomeroys, and the Courtenays of Walreddon) of the counties of Devon and Cornwall. They were all of them of an historical character, and proved so popular that they were issued in a set of ten volumes by Longmans in 1845-6, and were reprinted by Chapman & Hall so recently as 1884. Her second husband died in 1857, and Mrs. Bray then removed to London, where she employed herself at first with selecting and editing some of his poetry and sermons, and afterwards again betook herself to original work. Her last years were embittered by the report that during a visit to Bayeux in 1816 she had stolen a piece of the tapestry for which that city is famous: but her character was cleared by the correspondence and leading articles which appeared in the columns of the 'Times' on the subject. After a long life spent in literary labours, she died in London on 21 Jan. 1883. Her autobiography to 1843 was published by her nephew, Mr. John A. Kempe, in 1884: but it is neither so complete nor so accurate as might have been expected. It discloses an accomplished and kindly woman, proud of her own creations, and enthusiastic in praise of the literary characters with whom she had come in contact.

Mrs. Bray was the author of many works in addition to those which have been already enumerated. The most entertaining and the most valuable of all was 'The Borders of the Tamar and the Tavy ' (1836, 3 vols.), describing, in a series of letters to Robert Southey, the traditions and the superstitions which surround the town of Tavistock. It was reviewed by Southey in the 'Quarterly Review.' The remainder copies were issued with a new title-page by Mr. H. G. Bohn in 1838, and a new edition, compressed by Mrs. Bray herself into two volumes, appeared in 1879. With this may be read a series of tales for 'young people' on the romantic legends connected with Dartmoor and North Cornwall, entitled, 'A Peep at the Pixies, or Legends of the West' (1854). The interest of her travels, 'The Mountains and Lakes of Switzerland, with Notes on the Route there and back' (1841), may be said to have evaporated by this time, though their value at a time when the continent was less explored than it is now was generally recognised. When after a silence of some years she again in 1870 appeared as an author, she issued three compilations in French history, 'The Good St. Louis and his Times,' 'The Revolt of the Protestants of the Cevennes,' and 'Joan of Arc.' All of them were pleasantly written, but they lacked that historical research which could make them of permanent value. Of all Mrs. Bray's works, the most lasting will probably prove to be her letters to Southey on the legends and superstitions on the borders of the twin-streams of the Tamar and the Tavy.

[Maclean's Trigg Minor, i. 78; Southey's Life and Correspondence; Mrs. Bray's Autobiography, 1884; Library Chronicle, i. 126-9.]

W. P. C.